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Career Coach: Personal safety

Some simple precautions could make all the difference to your personal safety, says GP Dr Pam Brown

Some simple precautions could make all the difference to your personal safety, says GP Dr Pam Brown

• GPs provide an important service in the community and have the right to stay safe.

• Some 31% of GPs faced violence or abuse from patients in 2007 and one-third of abusive encounters included physical violence.

• Make time to think about personal safety. Learn how to defuse potentially aggressive or abusive incidents.

• In the surgery:

– Arrange your room so you sit between the patient and the door.

– Think through what you would do if a patient attacked you.

– Ensure panic alarms are accessible while you are at your desk and when you are standing by your examination couch.

– Lock your door when leaving your room.

– Ask staff to warn you if patients appear aggressive, drugged or drunk when they arrive, so you can assess them in a safe area.

– If you are threatened, consider providing what the patient wants, get them out, then report the incident to the police.

• On house calls:

– Make sure someone knows where you are visiting.

– Ask about risky practice areas and potentially dangerous patients; if in doubt, ask the police to meet you at the house.

– Only carry limited quantities of drugs and scripts.

– Carry a personal alarm and ensure it works.

– Ensure you have emergency numbers programmed into your phone and that it is charged.

– Keep car doors locked; do not leave handbags or doctor's bags on the passenger seat where they can be snatched while the car is stationary.

• For personal possessions:

– Keep handbags, laptops and other valuables locked in drawers or cupboards in the practice and locked out of sight in the car, or carry them with you on house calls.

– Do not provoke theft; carry minimal cash, don't wear expensive jewellery, don't leave phones or valuables on show.

– Trust your instincts; often it is hard to justify why one feels threatened in certain situations or by certain patients, but it is important to respect those concerns and take steps to protect yourself.

• If a violent, aggressive or verbally abusive incident occurs:

– Report it.

– Debrief fully about what happened with a trusted friend or team member.

• Do not be afraid to express ongoing feelings of fear or apprehension.

Dr Pam Brown is a GP in Swansea

Rob Newman2

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